Photo: We can’t say we weren’t warned.
If it wasn’t a PBP qualifier would have followed the example of quite a few riders and not even started?
This was The Dean, a 300km from Oxford to Wales and back. The start and finish was in a car park. Nothing fancy. I set the alarm for 02:30 to drive up to Oxford. I was the first to arrive, or so I thought. I spotted a bike in the bus stop. Going to say hello I was suprised to find a rider in a sleeping bag. Proper audaxing, even before the ride started. I later learnt that S was a Transcontinetal Race rider. She is tougher than me.
The controls of The Dean are all about 50km apart, which is brilliant. Two hours plus on the bike, then a break. Repeat six times. Done. Or so we thought.
I rode with ICC clubmate Peter (another TCR toughie). Two hours to the first control at Stow-in-the-Wold. So far so good.
The next section to Newent was hard. The headwind picked up and were were down to 7km/h on some of the climbs. We passed a huge polytunnel complex. The noise was intimidating. I noticed that we all sped up to get passed it as soon as possible for fear of being attacked by a plastic monster. Just to make it a little more challenging it rained, albeit lightly, so not really a problem. At one point I was blown across the road as we took a hump back bridge. Fortunately no oncoming traffic. A little scary. Three hours to get to Newent, our pace was slowing.
From Newent, more climbing, more headwind to get to the Forest of Dean. Draining. At least the forest gave us some respite from the wind. Debris was strewn across the road from the storm.
It was the only place I could film whilst riding, impossible elsewhere.
After the Forest of Dean the prospect of getting to half way in Chepstow spurred us on. Being half English half Welsh I was looking forward to returning to Wales, albeit very briefly between Chepstow and the Severn Bridge. Peter agreed to take a photo of me next to the Croeso i Cymru sign as we crossed the border. As we rode over the river Wye into Wales there was no sign. Gutted.
Not only was Chepstow in Wales, but as the half way point it meant we should have tail/cross winds for most of the return to Oxford. Something to be happy about.
Just one obstacle in our path to England. The Severn Bridge. I have fond memories of this bridge. After it opened in 1966 I was driven over it on our travels from Southampton where we lived, to Llanelli (spelt Llanelly then) where my mother’s family are from. Famously in our family I didn’t see the bridge for the first several crossings as I’d fallen asleep before we got there.
The prospect of riding across the Bridge in such a cross wind meant at least one rider decided it was too risky and they got the train home. My first ride across the Bridge was performed at a jaunty angle as the only way to stay upright was to lean into the wind.
Safely across the Bridge the next section to Malmesbury was the highlight of the ride. Not only did we have a tailwind and no rain but a friend of mine that lives in Malmesbury rode out to meet us to give us a guided tour of the route to his village. One slight snag. As we approached a stream of water and mud across the road I realised Mike had no mudguards. Too late. I was covered in mud. Nearly 200 km with no such problem and 10 minutes into seeing Mike I’m filthy. Thanks. At least we both saw the funny side of it.
At all the other controls we stopped at petrol stations and shops to speed up the process. We promised ourselves a proper café stop at Malmesbury. The coffee, cake and great company was very welcome.
L-R Peter (well know for never smiling in photos), Colin and Mike
The final 100km were tough. In the dark, nature decided to add rain to the mix. At first just light rain, then a downpour so severe we had to slow right down as we couldn’t see the edge. We rode in the middle of the road trying to use the white lines as our guide and reduce the risk of hitting a pothole.
At the Membrey Services control I heard a Welsh accent. In fact I recognised exactly where it was from. Where’s home? I enquired “, “Llanelli” was the response. After all these years I can still spot it.
Back into the dark and rain. Peter had booked a train back to London at 23:00 so was keen to push on. He went ahead. I was ok but so tired from the effort resisting the headwinds earlier in the day. I kept seeing his rear light in the distance but couldn’t get back in contact. I passed the railway station at 22:54 so I knew he’d made it.
It was a hard, wet, cold and solo ride for the last 50km but I made it. 17 hours 32 minutes with two and a half hours to spare. The good news was that the rain had stopped just outside Oxford. The bad news was having to disassemble and pack the bike in a soaking wet car park with numb hands from the cold. It took me half an hour with numb fingers and sore legs.
I was prepared to have to stop on the way back to London to sleep. The problem wasn’t keeping alert but shivering from the cold. Once I’d stopped riding my core temperature dropped. I shook for the first half an hour in the car and got home at 01:30. Quite a day out.
The answer to the question, if it wasn’t a PBP qualifier would have done the ride?
Thank you to Justin Jones for organising the ride. Like all the other winter audaxes I’ve done lately I’d love to ride it again in the summer.
2019 YEAR TO DATE
Distance: 2,476.7 km
Average distance per ride: 117.9 km
Elevation gain: 17,255m (1.95 Everests)